While some much needed improvements in school lunches are on the horizon, many health conscious families continue to choose to pack lunches from home for their children. If your child has more than 2 hours between the time you pack their bag and the time they eat lunch, what steps can you take to ensure their lunch stays safe to eat?
One top rule in food safety is Keep HOT foods HOT and COLD foods COLD! Unless you eat with your child at school, are you really sure their lunches are maintaining proper temperatures? You might want to visit school some day for lunch and “test” his/her favorites just to make sure you are doing all that you can to keep them cold (or hot). For example…..your child has yogurt everyday as part of their lunch, make sure to place something frozen (ice pack or frozen water bottle or juice box) on TOP of the yogurt container. Even better if you can place one on top and one next to the yogurt. An alternative (and this is the only reason I like the tubed yogurts) is to freeze the yogurts that come in single serving tubes, but don’t rely on that as the only source of ice for an entire lunch box!
If your child prefers hot soup or dinner leftovers for their lunch, make sure you can maintain the proper temperature for those. A stainless steel, double walled thermos is a best bet. Make sure all hot food items are reheated or cooked to a proper internal temperature based on the main ingredient. Be very careful with reheating thick dishes in the microwave…..smaller pieces and regular stirring can help ensure the proper temperature is reached ALL the way through! For example; a piece of lasagne was saved from last nights dinner and refrigerated. The next morning you heat it in the microwave on a plate until it bubbles a little and feels hot on the top and bottom. Unfortunately the chunk of meat or cheese in the middle is still cool, and offers up a prime condition to breed bacteria. Better to cut into small pieces and stir once or twice while heating longer on a lower temperature, making sure all pieces are thoroughly heated through. Also, preheat your thermos by filling with HOT water while you heat the food that is going into the thermos. Then add hot foods to the heated thermos and close tightly. Store thermoses of hot foods away from cold lunch box foods.
For more food safety tips on keeping school lunches safe, please visit
“For helping spread the word about the importance of home food safety, I was entered into a drawing for a $15 Starbucks gift card and an iPad through Summertime Food Smarts, a contest run by the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods’ Home Food Safety program. Home Food Safety is dedicated to raising consumer awareness about the seriousness of foodborne illness and providing solutions for easily and safely handling foods. Learn more at http://www.homefoodsafety.org”;
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Home Food Safety is dedicated to raising consumer awareness about the seriousness of foodborne illness and providing solutions for easily and safely handling foods.